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negative portrayals or coding of Classical music in media

Hey long time no post 

Been having something on my mind, namely classical music representation in media. If you watch enough TV or movies (and read enough books to some extent) when classical music or any of the performing fine arts (orchestras, band, choir, ballet, etc.) are passively represented in the narrative of the story in question. Now what I mean by passive represented I mean it is not completely integral to the story (may be a random fact of a character(s), a background setting, or set a mood for a scene). Some examples you might know are "the band nerd character," a string quartet playing in the background of a fancy dinner, the rival school that sings or plays snooty classical music juxtaposed to the more hip underdog group and so on.

I would like to do more research on this topic but I wanted to ask you all something. Can you think of any scenes from a movie or television show that had a less than positive representation of classical music. What were your feelings about it, if any? And do you find it problematic how the trope of using classical music at the antagonist, joke, or using it short hand for snooty and snobby elites?

I'll share a few of mine in a little bit. 

SIDE NOTE:

Im not saying that all classical music representation has been negative, there are have amazing movie and TV shows that treat classical music with the utmost respect. Think Mozart in the Jungle, Nodame Cantabile, Sound Euphonium, The Quartet, Black Swan, etc.

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I know what you mean. It happens the other way as well of course; the grunge or punk band used to represent low-brow brutish youth, the pretentious ukelele/guitar playing singer-songwriter, the sophistication of jazz. Classical does sometimes become the chalkboard for being something a little bit posh and beyond, though. As someone snobby and elitist myself I don't care for it, classical is awesome.

Only one I can recall is the Simpsons, who at least went some way to show the classical musicians as good sports. Thinking about it, there's references to classical music being stymieing and snobbish in other episodes. Lisa represented as the musical free spirit and her school band only excelling when released from their conductor. That might have just been a dig at school conductors who prioritise Sousa though.



I saw a trailer to some Dance-Off: The Streets Are Paved With Gold Chains movie (title possibly incorrect) and a central plot was ballet vs break dancers. I'd bet money there's a scene in which classical music is derided on classist grounds.

And I remember this: in the GTA game Vice City, there's a rock radio station you can tune into. At one point the DJ gets derided for playing flute in his school band rather than drumming to Def Leppard songs, inference being the latter is what you should be doing.

I'm remembering more now. Kiss (the band) did a concert with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. In the behind the scenes stuff, Gene Simmons was surprised because the orchestra made the music more powerful instead of "wimping out" the songs. I think that's a good example - the assumption and bias that orchestral/classical music is wimpy as opposed to (in my estimation) about the most powerful potential musical asset you could have.

Classical music is also used as a kind of anti-cliche - when someone is gifted or passionate about it but who comes from a background the audience is set up to think as inappropriate or surprising. The Soloist comes to mind.

Or Crossroads - Eugene's classical tutor is portrayed as so ridiculously close-minded, dismissive and basically racist to blues (as are his classmate) that classical music in general doesn't come off well. "Excellence in primitive music is cultural. You have to be born to it."



Ok, I didn't think I had that much!

Well, Tyler the one single example of abusing classical music that I can remember with real disgust and anger most is the music of the rondo from Abdelazer by H. Purcell (not Britten's version of the current composition contest by Mike). This music was adopted by the conservative party as the introduction to all political broadcasts by this party in a British general election campaign but I can't remember if it was in Thatcher's or Major's time.

I suppose the message was that only the conservatives were true British caring for their country and honouring its tradition and culture while labour was just a bunch of treacherous communists.

The master brain behind it was Saatchi & Saatchi advertising and creative agency.

I don’t suppose that it can be found on youtube anymore though, but it is indicative of people appropriating ideas that have nothing to do with them really.

One of the examples I have comes from a movie that started me thinking about this, Sister Act II. I started thinking about this since now Im a choir director of middle schoolers and on days where we watch a movie I originally thought about playing this for them. A movie about a choir in a minority rich and low socio-economic areas which reflects my choir very much. When re-watching the movie to determine if its appropriate for kids, one scene really bothered me.

***Spoiler Alert***

The final moments of the movie is the choir going to a choir competition in order to save their school. We never meet the rival choir, or hear from other choirs period in the movie. We are introduced to the "rival choir" and they are filmed and blocked in the scene as a machine, soulless, choir. But, unlike the choir that is the protagonist of the movie, this choir sings Beethoven Ode to Joy. 

This choir and this performance is juxtaposed with our protagonist choir singing gospel music that is transformed by the popular music of the early 90's (complete with a hip hop rap section and Lauren Hill who was at the time a rising start in the R&B and Rap scene). This choir is also told before they take the stage to disrobe and to be "natural." 

Now again, through the entire movie, we have never been introduced to the first choir that performed. Their are no scenes of them being assholes, snobby, or rude. But the way it is filmed, framed, blocked, and even the reaction from the protagonist indicates that the choir singing Beethoven is the enemy choir. There juxtaposition sends the message that the Beethoven choir is boring, stiff, uninteresting, and (as a person of color seeing this) that classical music is for white folks. We the audience are suppose to see this choir is the lesser choir because they dont have that "urban flavor" and apparently lack the soul that comes from popular music. This is a trope that comes up a lot when dealing with minority rich movies and the subject of music. So many examples of this come up, but this one really struck a nerve with me being that I watched this movie when I was learning to be a classical musicians.

When I was young, I was more impressed with the Beethoven choir which created this dissonance in me about being a person of color and my relationship with classical music. As an adult I find it problematic because its almost saying that classical music will never trump popular music because classical music is soulless and lacks the energy that comes with Gospel and popular music. But worse of all, its almost perpetuating the idea that people of color shouldn't try classical music and should stick with rap and gospel. 

I wish the movie did more to make other reasons to dislike the other choir. A scene or two that shows that they are mean or something. Hell, I wish the protagonist sang some classical music of some kind and learning to appreciate it and learn from it. But they don't. Instead, its because a showdown between classical music and popular music almost purely (with a very small touch of personal and internal conflict, most of which were resolved before this scene). That is what I find problematic about the use of classical music in this movie. 

I've not that scene before and it's not great, is it. I suppose the choir are shown to be hostile with the unison stare and militaristic turn/stamp thing, but we're not shown why. Probably the association (in media as a whole) with classical music and snobbery comes from a general feeling that it's correlated to a level of money and education, so it's an easy shorthand to construct this template of cultural aloofness whether or not it's accurate.

Tyler Hughes said:

One of the examples I have comes from a movie that started me thinking about this, Sister Act II. I started thinking about this since now Im a choir director of middle schoolers and on days where we watch a movie I originally thought about playing this for them. A movie about a choir in a minority rich and low socio-economic areas which reflects my choir very much. When re-watching the movie to determine if its appropriate for kids, one scene really bothered me.

***Spoiler Alert***

The final moments of the movie is the choir going to a choir competition in order to save their school. We never meet the rival choir, or hear from other choirs period in the movie. We are introduced to the "rival choir" and they are filmed and blocked in the scene as a machine, soulless, choir. But, unlike the choir that is the protagonist of the movie, this choir sings Beethoven Ode to Joy. 

This choir and this performance is juxtaposed with our protagonist choir singing gospel music that is transformed by the popular music of the early 90's (complete with a hip hop rap section and Lauren Hill who was at the time a rising start in the R&B and Rap scene). This choir is also told before they take the stage to disrobe and to be "natural." 

Now again, through the entire movie, we have never been introduced to the first choir that performed. Their are no scenes of them being assholes, snobby, or rude. But the way it is filmed, framed, blocked, and even the reaction from the protagonist indicates that the choir singing Beethoven is the enemy choir. There juxtaposition sends the message that the Beethoven choir is boring, stiff, uninteresting, and (as a person of color seeing this) that classical music is for white folks. We the audience are suppose to see this choir is the lesser choir because they dont have that "urban flavor" and apparently lack the soul that comes from popular music. This is a trope that comes up a lot when dealing with minority rich movies and the subject of music. So many examples of this come up, but this one really struck a nerve with me being that I watched this movie when I was learning to be a classical musicians.

When I was young, I was more impressed with the Beethoven choir which created this dissonance in me about being a person of color and my relationship with classical music. As an adult I find it problematic because its almost saying that classical music will never trump popular music because classical music is soulless and lacks the energy that comes with Gospel and popular music. But worse of all, its almost perpetuating the idea that people of color shouldn't try classical music and should stick with rap and gospel. 

I wish the movie did more to make other reasons to dislike the other choir. A scene or two that shows that they are mean or something. Hell, I wish the protagonist sang some classical music of some kind and learning to appreciate it and learn from it. But they don't. Instead, its because a showdown between classical music and popular music almost purely (with a very small touch of personal and internal conflict, most of which were resolved before this scene). That is what I find problematic about the use of classical music in this movie. 

If memory serves me correctly, the movie "Center Stage."

In Elysium, about 13 minutes into the film, the space station, which is populated by an isolationist privileged class is represented with Bachs 1st Cello Suite. In the same scene the primary villain in introduced, who in the next scene gives the order to murder helpless refugees. I thought this was a typical example of misusing a piece of classical music to portray a privileged upper class and an elitist murderous villain. 

I would have chosen a different piece for the scene. Bachs 1st Cello Suite seems to be a superficial choice. The piece needs  an evil undertone. For example the part of Schuberts Erlkoenig which starts with "Du liebes Kind" would have been a more sophisticated choice. 

We'd be remiss not to mention Hannibal Lector's theme- the Goldberg variations…. (i guess demonstrating poise and inventiveness  shared w/ JS… oh the irony!!   :)

I don’t know if the appropriation of this music by a political party is a good example for your thread Tyler, cause obviously the music has been inserted later in the video, but still this kind of appropriation of Wagner's music took place historically in the 1930ies and WW 2.

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